<< Chapter < Page Chapter >> Page >

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Understand the arguments for and against requiring the U.S. federal budget to be balanced
  • Consider the long-run and short-run effects of a federal budget deficit

For many decades, going back to the 1930s, proposals have been put forward to require that the U.S. government balance its budget every year. In 1995, a proposed constitutional amendment that would require a balanced budget passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a wide margin, and failed in the U.S. Senate by only a single vote. (For the balanced budget to have become an amendment to the Constitution would have required a two-thirds vote by Congress and passage by three-quarters of the state legislatures.)

Most economists view the proposals for a perpetually balanced budget    with bemusement. After all, in the short term, economists would expect the budget deficits and surpluses to fluctuate up and down with the economy and the automatic stabilizers. Economic recessions should automatically lead to larger budget deficits or smaller budget surpluses, while economic booms lead to smaller deficits or larger surpluses. A requirement that the budget be balanced each and every year would prevent these automatic stabilizers from working and would worsen the severity of economic fluctuations.

Some supporters of the balanced budget amendment like to argue that, since households must balance their own budgets, the government should too. But this analogy between household and government behavior is severely flawed. Most households do not balance their budgets every year. Some years households borrow to buy houses or cars or to pay for medical expenses or college tuition. Other years they repay loans and save funds in retirement accounts. After retirement, they withdraw and spend those savings. Also, the government is not a household for many reasons, one of which is that the government has macroeconomic responsibilities. The argument of Keynesian macroeconomic policy is that the government needs to lean against the wind, spending when times are hard and saving when times are good, for the sake of the overall economy.

There is also no particular reason to expect a government budget to be balanced in the medium term of a few years. For example, a government may decide that by running large budget deficits, it can make crucial long-term investments in human capital    and physical infrastructure    that will build the long-term productivity of a country. These decisions may work out well or poorly, but they are not always irrational. Such policies of ongoing government budget deficits may persist for decades. As the U.S. experience from the end of World War II up to about 1980 shows, it is perfectly possible to run budget deficits almost every year for decades, but as long as the percentage increases in debt are smaller than the percentage growth of GDP, the debt/GDP ratio will decline at the same time.

Nothing in this argument should be taken as a claim that budget deficits are always a wise policy. In the short run, a government that runs a very large budget deficit can shift aggregate demand to the right and trigger severe inflation. Additionally, governments may borrow for foolish or impractical reasons. The Macroeconomic Impacts of Government Borrowing will discuss how large budget deficits, by reducing national saving, can in certain cases reduce economic growth and even contribute to international financial crises. A requirement that the budget be balanced in each calendar year, however, is a misguided overreaction to the fear that in some cases, budget deficits can become too large.

No yellowstone park?

The federal budget shutdown of 2013 illustrated the many sides to fiscal policy and the federal budget. In 2013, Republicans and Democrats could not agree on which spending policies to fund and how large the government debt should be. Due to the severity of the recession in 2008–2009, the fiscal stimulus, and previous policies, the federal budget deficit and debt was historically high. One way to try to cut federal spending and borrowing was to refuse to raise the legal federal debt limit, or tie on conditions to appropriation bills to stop the Affordable Health Care Act. This disagreement led to a two-week shutdown of the federal government and got close to the deadline where the federal government would default on its Treasury bonds. Finally, however, a compromise emerged and default was avoided. This shows clearly how closely fiscal policies are tied to politics.

Key concepts and summary

Balanced budget amendments are a popular political idea, but the economic merits behind such proposals are questionable. Most economists accept that fiscal policy needs to be flexible enough to accommodate unforeseen expenditures, such as wars or recessions. While persistent, large budget deficits can indeed be a problem, a balanced budget amendment prevents even small, temporary deficits that might, in some cases, be necessary.

Questions & Answers

Given that the elasticity of supply for a good is 2 and the percentage change in price is 45%.What is the percentage change in quantity supplied
Mbe Reply
Please don't understand
state and explainfour function of a costumer service
Egba Reply
the circular flow model of the economy is a simplification showing how the economy works and the relationship between income,production and spending in the economy as a whole
Anna Reply
what is circular flow
Ntokozo Reply
what is economics?
Dorcas Reply
Economics is defined as the science that study human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.
economics is a social science concerned with the production,distribution, and consumption of goods and services
in 2021 Amazon reduced the annual subscription fee for its prime membership service which provides free two_day shipping on many goods and other benefits, from $119 to $99. Zoppa consulting, an investment firm estimated that before the price reduction, prime had 62million subscribers globally. If so, what is the arc elasticity of demand for a prime membership.
Joan Reply
Differences between microeconomics and macroeconomics
tatiana Reply
Macroeconomics deal with the economy as a whole.that is an economy affect the firm ,government and the households eg.unemployment, whilst Microeconomics deal with the the decision making of households,firm and government separately.
what is Economics
Ebem Reply
the branch of knowledge concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth and has Influence by sociology!!!!
Economics is the study of how humans make decisions when they want to fulfil their requirements and desires for goods, services and resources.
Economics is the study how humans make decisions in the faces of scarcity.
economic is the study of how human make decision in the fact of scarcity.
Economics is a social science which study human behavior as a relationship between earn and scarce mean which have alternative uses
what is market structure
market structure in economics depicts how firms are differentiated and categorised based on types of goods they sell and how their operations are affected by external factors and elements.
what is economic theory
what is demand
Gooluck Reply
demand is the willingness to purchase something
demand is the potential ability or williness to purchases something at a particular price at a given period of time..
Demand refers to as quantities of a goods and services in which consumers are willing and able to purchase at a given period of time. Demand can also be defined as the desire backed by ability to purchase .
what is demand
John Reply
is the production of goods in scarcity
Demand refers to as quantities of a goods and services in which consumers are willing and able to purchase at a given period of time.
Demand refers to the quantity of goods and services that a consumer is willing and able to buy at a given price over a period of time
Do high interest rate in a country increase investment
what is demand of supply
music Reply
What is the meaning of supply of labour
Anthonia Reply
what is production?
Elizabeth Reply
Production is basically the creation of goods and services to satisfy human wants
importance of tertiary and example
Production is the process of producing goods and services to satisfy human needs and want.
under what condition will demand curve slope upward from left to right instead of normally sloping downward from left to right
Atama Reply
how i can calculate elasticity?
Tewekel Reply

Get Jobilize Job Search Mobile App in your pocket Now!

Get it on Google Play Download on the App Store Now

Source:  OpenStax, Principles of economics. OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2014 Download for free at http://legacy.cnx.org/content/col11613/1.11
Google Play and the Google Play logo are trademarks of Google Inc.

Notification Switch

Would you like to follow the 'Principles of economics' conversation and receive update notifications?